Roughly six weeks since Election Day and almost a month before Joe Biden’s inauguration, we are entering what has the potential to be the most fascinating and explosive period of the Donald Trump presidency.
For the first time since entering office, we may get to see what it looks like when a political outsider like Donald Trump gets to do whatever he wants without worrying about the consequences.
Remember, the day after his inauguration, Trump announced his reelection campaign. With the prospect of another four years hanging over his head, he’s never been allowed to be as reckless and disruptive as his natural tendencies suggest he’d like to be.
At every step of the way, his more outrageous instincts have been tempered by the Larry Kudlow’s, Mitch McConnell’s, and Paul Ryan’s of the world. Even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, routinely pulled the President towards more conventional GOP politics instead of encouraging the populist, anti-establishment message that fueled his victory in 2016.
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Now, he’s running out of options when it comes to proving his allegations of election fraud. On Monday, state electorates cast their electoral college votes in favor of Joe Biden, bringing the Democratic president-elect one last step away from the White House.
That also means Donald Trump has one last opportunity to overturn the election result – after that, nothing is restraining the lame-duck President from using his presidential powers however he pleases.
Many voices on both sides of the political aisle see this as their best chance to right some terrible wrongs. More specifically, people hope to convince President Trump to grant presidential pardons to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
|Who Will Trump Pardon?||Betting Odds|
|Donald Trump Jr||+130|
Donald Trump’s Vendetta
Julian Assange and Edward Snowden’s biggest asset this winter could be the many voices loudly rejecting the prospect of them being pardoned. Whether it’s the centrist neoliberals coming into power or Republican leadership who Trump believes betrayed him after the election, granting these pardons would piss off all the right people.
On Monday, two major news stories broke that will undoubtedly factor into how Trump decides to spend his final 35 days in office:
- Attorney General Bill Barr is set to resign from his position on December 23.
- State electors convened and voted to make Joe Biden’s electoral college victory official.
Barr Steps Down
One day after Attorney General William Barr announced his resignation, Bill Kristol – neoconservative political strategist, war hawk, Iraq war advocate, and all-around beltway ghoul – went to Twitter to ponder whether the decision was in any way related to upcoming presidential pardons.
I’ve got to think Barr wanted out before the final wave of pardons–especially if those include not just the usual distasteful Trump cronies but perhaps Assange and/or Snowden.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) December 14, 2020
Kristol specifically expressed concern that along with the President’s cronies like Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon – who are expected to receive clemency in the final days of the Trump administration – but Assange and Snowden as well.
In April 2019, Barr’s Department of Justice charged Julian Assange with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion related to the Wikileaks founder assisting Chelsea Manning to access defense department computers in 2010. One month later, the US government brought another 17 charges against him for violations of the Espionage Act.
As for Snowden, when Republicans like Rep. Thomas Massie, Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Matt Gaetz began calling for the former US intelligence contractor to be pardoned, the Attorney General publicly disagreed.
“He was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people,” Barr was reported as saying by The Associated Press in August.
President Trump, on the other hand, has softened his stance on Edward Snowden in recent years.
“There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that,” he told The Washington Post this Summer.
Is it possible that Bill Kristol is correct, and the AG is abandoning ship early rather than stick around to see one or both controversial figures given pardons? As a member of the Republican establishment, Kristol and Barr exist in the same political circles; maybe he has some inside info.
Trump Running Out of Options
Between the Supreme Court shooting down Texas v. Pennsylvania based on standing and Joe Biden securing the requisite electoral college votes on Monday, Trump is rapidly running out of ways to challenge the election results. He’s nearly exhausted all his options in the courts, aside from a few state cases gradually making their way through the system.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw in the towel on behalf of the President and openly congratulated Joe Biden as the president-elect. To this, Trump replied on Twitter:
“Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!”
President Trump’s only real chance to overturn the election now is through Congress on January 6, when both chambers meet in a joint session to confirm the electoral college vote totals.
To pull it off, he’ll need allies in both chambers to object to the contested states’ electoral vote tallies. Then, Republicans must convene and decide to uphold the objections long enough to force the House to elect the President.
McConnell and other GOP leaders are preemptively cautioning against such an explosively controversial political maneuver. Between his former Republican “allies” recognizing Biden’s victory and actively working against Trump’s congressional last stand, one can only assume the President feels betrayed.
And a man who values loyalty above all else isn’t likely to take such treachery (from Trump’s perspective, anyway) laying down.
Lindsey Graham Tweeted:
To those urging a pardon of Edward Snowden:
You are suggesting President @realDonaldTrump pardon a traitor.
Edward Snowden is NOT a victim.
Follow-up Graham tweet:
Snowden has American blood on his hands and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Snowden betrayed his country, sought shelter in Putin’s Russia, and put American lives at risk — as well as those who risked their lives to help us in foreign lands.
To pardon Snowden would be a betrayal of all those who have sacrificed since 9/11 to protect our nation.
Assuming McConnell gets his way, that means the lame-duck President will have absolutely nothing left to lose and a whole lot of axes to grind as of January 6, a full two weeks before he leaves office.
So far, all the GOP power players who benefit most from the party returning to its pre-Trump moderate ideologies have come out against Snowden and Assange. It just so happens that the Republicans most eager to move on to president-elect Joe Biden would also be the most offended by the President granting them pardons.
With a petty man like Donald Trump in the White House, that bodes exceptionally well for Julian and Edward.
Pardoning Edward Snowden
According to Bovada’s political oddsmakers, Snowden is the slightly more likely of the two to be pardoned over the next month. Both men are victims of government overreach and dubious interpretations of espionage laws. Still, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor’s case is probably stronger within the parameters of the US’s broken justice system.
That’s because, on September 2, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA surveillance program – the details of which were leaked by Snowden – were themselves illegal.
The court concluded that the “telephony metadata collection program exceeded the scope of Congress’s authorization” and “therefore violated that section of [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act].” Furthermore, the spying program “may have violated the Fourth Amendment.”
When a crooked politician calls me traitor, ask yourself: who did I betray? The courts have ruled repeatedly that the programs I revealed were unlawful, and likely unconstitutional—a violation of your rights.
If this is treason, what they call loyalty is a crime.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) December 15, 2020
The ruling goes on to acknowledge the vital role Edward Snowden played in informing the public of this violation of their rights by making “public the existence of NSA data collection programs.”
Beyond the fact that Snowden only leaked information related to illegal surveillance, how he shared the information bodes well for his chances of clemency. Unlike Assange’s Wikileaks, the former NSA contractor never personally made any documents publicly available.
Rather than dumping the leaks onto the internet, he sent them to well-respected journalists and news outlets such as Glenn Greenwald, The Washington Post, and The Guardian along with a request to report on them responsibly. Those media platforms then vetted and published the documents as they saw fit.
Edward Snowden is a traitor.
He is responsible for the largest and most damaging release of classified info in US history.
He handed over US secrets to Russian and Chinese intelligence putting our troops and our nation at risk.
Pardoning him would be unconscionable.
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) December 13, 2020
The next time you see somebody trying to revive the long-discredited claims that I was some kind of foreign agent because they don’t like what I represent, show them this clip of the NSA’s Deputy Director—the man who actually ran that investigation—trash-canning it. pic.twitter.com/vNQgXIWH6g
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) August 17, 2020
If Donald Trump wants to take a parting shot at the deep state and establishment swamp, he probably blames for his election loss, without stepping too far over the line, pardoning Edward Snowden makes perfect sense.
He was careful and responsible when leaking the documents; everything he blew the whistle on was later ruled illegal; the agencies have undergone reforms in response to his actions. That’s no different than what Daniel Ellsberg did with the Pentagon Papers in 1971, passing them along to the New York Times to deliver the truth about the Vietnam War to the American people.
Besides being morally right, Trump also knows pardoning Snowden will piss off Republican war hawks and the incoming Biden administration – all the more reason to make it happen!
I’m a big believer in Edward Snowden receiving a presidential pardon, especially at +200 betting odds!
Pardoning Julian Assange
If Donald Trump wants to send the Washington DC elite into an absolute frenzy while simultaneously improving his legacy by leaps and bounds, he’ll also pardon Julian Assange.
The Wikileaks founder has been hounded by authorities for years, stemming from his website’s decision to publish evidence of war crimes committed by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The documents, which included the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, were leaked to Assange by former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in early 2010.
Since then, high-ranking authorities have been trying to extradite the journalist to the United States. In 2012, Sweden brought forward trumped-up rape charges leading UK police to issue a warrant for Julian’s arrest. Fearful of extradition, Assange sought and was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Its being reported that Trump might pardon Assange. If he does, it will be very interesting to see how MSNBC & CNN & all of the liberals who supported this monstrous crime will frame his pardon. Neoliberalism is the contemporary fascism!
— Ajamu Baraka (@ajamubaraka) December 14, 2020
In 2017, the United States also issued a warrant for his arrest while simultaneously putting pressure on the Ecuadorian government to rescind his asylum. They got their wish in April 2019. He was arrested and is currently being tortured via solitary confinement in a UK prison while facing an extradition trial marred by ridiculous rules and conditions designed to make any legal defense impossible.
The strangest thing about Julian Assange’s legal situation is that he owes no allegiance to the United States. All he’s ever done is publish documents that were leaked to him from whistleblowers. He hasn’t committed the hacks himself or stolen sensitive documents. He can’t be a traitor because he’s not even American.
What he’s guilty of is what has traditionally been called “journalism.”
Someone on the inside of a corrupt institution gets their hands on evidence of wrongdoing, and they leak it to a publisher who informs the public. That’s how the fourth estate has historically worked.
Assange’s problem is that he got on the wrong side of two of America’s most diabolical actors: the military-industrial complex and the Clinton’s.
- The 2010 leaks exposed the truth about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- The 2016 Wikileaks dumps cost Hillary Clinton her chance at becoming President.
Everything that’s happened to Julian since has been about sending a message to other journalists to think twice before doing their job and publishing sensitive information.
Despite benefitting directly from Wikileaks’ work, I’m not as confident in Donald Trump pardoning Julian Assange as I am Edward Snowden.
He’s not receiving nearly as much support from Republicans in Congress as the NSA whistleblower.
Trump Was Once a Fan
In 2016, Trump was quite fond of Assange’s Wikileaks after the website published a series of leaked DNC emails mere weeks before Election Day. On the campaign trail, he hammered the email scandal exposing the Democratic Party for rigging their primaries against Bernie Sanders on behalf of Hillary Clinton, among other embarrassments.
Here are some Wikileaks quotes from Trump on the campaign trail:
- October 10: “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”
- October 12: “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it.”
- October 13: “It’s been amazing what’s coming out on WikiLeaks.”
- October 31: “Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
Assange’s extradition verdict will be delivered on January 4, at which point he will undoubtedly be turned over to American authorities. At that point, the 49-year-old could face up to 175 years in prison if he’s found guilty on all 18 charges brought against him.
At the moment, I’d say the likelihood of Julian Assange being pardoned is pretty slim. He doesn’t have as many advocates in Washington DC as Edward Snowden and is accused of publishing the names of intelligence officials and encouraging “sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to Wikileaks to disclose,” amongst his many offenses.
As much as Donald Trump may want to stick it to the political establishment on his way out the door, he may not want to cross forces with the ability to ruin his life post leaving office.
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to advise against betting on Julian Assange receiving a presidential pardon at +250 odds.
At +750 moneyline, I’d have to think about it. +250 isn’t enough of a payout for an outcome as controversial as freeing Wikileaks’ founder, a thorn in the powerful’s side for over a decade.